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Food at my house is an involved undertaking. I am a vegetarian, my husband eats about five vegetables (this includes potatoes and onions), and my daughter only eats about four things generally (most include peanut butter). Also this month, I am determined to use up pantry items. I’ve got way too many grains and boxes of things that seemed like a good idea at the time. (Instant gumbo, anyone?)

Here’s what we’re eating this week. It’s an easy menu this week because I’ve got too much to do to mess around with too much cookin’. I love easy menus.

Monday: Turkey & Dumplings. I made Chicken & Dumplings last week, which is a meal my husband can eat pretty much every single day. I have leftover dumplings, so I’m defrosting some Thanksgiving leftovers. I always defrost things in some kind of broth or stock, to help offset any drying that happens when you freeze stuff. This also infuses whatever you’re defrosting with flavor (or at least that’s what I’m told). I will be having fake chicken from Quorn; it’s actually not bad. I don’t think it tastes like chicken, but I haven’t had chicken in almost 30 years, so it’s fine by me.

A word about faux meat: If you don’t expect the faux item to actually taste like the genuine article, they’re fine. They’re a good source of protein that is roughly-shaped and vaguely-flavored like the thing it’s supposed to be substituting. That means it’ll work reasonably well in recipes as a replacement, and it will fit on all the requisite buns and rolls. But you really have to approach it like it’s a different thing, like the difference between soy milk and regular milk. Soy milk isn’t milk. Don’t expect it to be milk. You may as well call it soy water, or soy juice or something. I think calling it soy milk sets people up for disappointment. Same thing with veggie burgers: it is vegetables that are pressed into a patty, that will fit on a burger roll, and which should not be mistaken for a burger. Only cow tastes like cow. Vegetables are not cow, in the same way that your car is not your bike. But if you think of it as something completely different, which also tastes good with relish and ketchup, then you have a nice little source of protein that’s easier to make, frankly, than the cow stuff.

The other reason I like faux meat is that real meat comes with rules. When I make real chicken, for instance, I have to spray the entire kitchen and all the people in it with Formula 409, because I fear meat-borne illness. As a result, I spend a lot of money on Formula 409. But I digress.

Tuesday: Two soups. Why two? Why not? It’s winter. You can’t go wrong having extra soup. This is one of my pantry items: I have two boxes of Matzo Ball soup, misguidedly purchased when I thought I would express fraternity with my Jewish friends during Passover last year, and ended up making something else instead…frankly, I don’t know what. I’ve made it before, and it’s actually really good. Here’s hoping nothing dramatic happened to it between last year and this, though in my experience, once something is dehydrated to the point that it can exist in a box, you really can’t hurt it anymore.

The other soup is a great vegetable soup that I love. It’s not hard to make, and there are endless variations. I use whatever beans and grains exist in my pantry, and I add some vegetable base for extra flavor. Here’s the recipe. I usually end up making this soup every week at some point. It’s a big fan favorite here. We eat it for snacks and lunches, too.

Wednesday: Steak, scalloped potatoes, green beans. I’ll make myself and my daughter a veggie burger to sub for the steak. For my husband, it’s a flat iron steak, slow-cooked on top of the stove, salt & pepper. The scalloped potatoes are boxed potatoes from the pantry. I think I bought them thinking it’d be a time-saver, but honestly, real scalloped potatoes don’t take that much time to make. Anyway, powdered cheese sauce for Wednesday! Yay!

Thursday: Baked Ziti. I had some ricotta and mozzerella leftover from a lasagna I’d made. Baked ziti is so easy. Since I’m half Italian and I’ve been making it with my mother since I was a kid, I don’t think I’ve ever had an actual recipe. This is the fast version, where you don’t make your own sauce. I’m sure my grandmother is rolling around in her grave, but you know, it’s the information age. We have stuff to do.

Baked Ziti: You boil a pound of noodles, and while that’s happening, you mix 2 lbs ricotta; at least two eggs, though sometimes more – you want it to be creamy; garlic powder (to taste. I use a lot, like at least a tablespoon); parmesan (1/2 cup? Ish?); dried basil (a teaspoon? more?); parsley (a tablespoon); salt & pepper (some of each? You can always add this to the final dish. I don’t worry too much about this); shredded mozzerella (a big handful? Probably about a cup or 4oz). Mix cooked noodles with the cheese mixture. Add about a jar of sauce (more is ok, too). Mix all this together. Put it in a big casserole dish that’s been sprayed with cooking spray. Add another cup of sauce to the top. Cover. Bake at 350 for about an hour, until you see the sauce is bubbling on top. Remove cover. Sprinkle with another 1/2 cup of mozzerella, bake for about 5 more minutes. Take it out and let it sit there for about 15-20 minutes.

I made mine already and put it in the refrigerator. Re-heated pasta dishes > freshly baked pasta dishes, because all those wonderful herbs have a chance to really meet and mingle with the pasta and cheeses. Though, I wouldn’t send a freshly baked pasta dish back, either. I mean, seriously, you can’t really mess it up, and it always tastes good.

Friday: Eggs, Pancakes, Fake Bacon. The one exception to fake meats that my husband will tolerate is fake bacon, or more specifically, Morningstar Farms Breakfast Strips. We love breakfast for dinner. My sister-in-law doesn’t like breakfast for dinner, but she also gets freaked out by talking monkeys, which I think are hilarious, so clearly her judgement is problematic. If I was limited to one meal for the rest of my life, it’d be breakfast. Or brunch. (Maybe brunch is cheating? I guess I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it.)

Saturday: Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup. This is the perfect winter meal. I don’t care that it’s the go-to meal of the average 10-year-old. I still like dipping the grilled cheese into the soup. Yes, Campbell’s soup. Open the can, pour it out, add water and heat. Mmm. Mmm. Good.

Sunday: Pizza. Every Sunday my daughter gets together with a friend, and the only thing children reliably eat is pizza. So, pizza. I will probably make myself a salad, because my diet doesn’t tolerate the amount of pizza that I really, really want – something like half the pizza. I might have one piece. We’ll see.

An easy menu for a busy week.

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